An Either/Or Thing

I read the words of the old songwriter and it brings to mind the words of the old preacher.

I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep Your word.
~ The Psalmist (Psalm 119:101 ESV)

Sin will keep you from the Word, or the Word will keep you from sin.
~ D.L. Moody

As I chew on it, I do think it’s an “either/or” thing not a “both/and” thing. If you’re into one, the Bible, it’ll keep from you being into the other, sin. But if you’re indulging the way of our fallen world, it’s gonna keep you from the way of God’s word.

The songwriter says, I hold back my feet from every evil way. I refuse to walk that path. “I watch my steps,” as Peterson paraphrases it, “avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil.” I restrain my feet from walking in the way of folly. How come? I want to keep God’s word.

It’s starts with wanting to be obedient. And that starts with believing that the way to thrive and flourish in life is to walk in a manner worthy of our calling — the way of God’s word. When I’m convinced that His ways should be my ways, then I’m gonna be careful of behaviors which compete with that pursuit. Experience bears it out, following after fleshly unrighteousness compromises a holy hunger and thirst for righteousness. The pleasures of sin are but cheap, fleeting, junk food which have a way of taking away our appetite for that which truly nourishes the soul and prepares for eternity.

But feast on the Word and the appetite for the things of the flesh has a way of diminishing. Kind of how sanctification works. We read the Word, we study the Word, me meditate on the Word, and it’s gonna make us wanna walk in the Word. Transformed by the renewing of our minds. Conformed increasingly into the likeness of Jesus. Less appetite for sin.

And, when we do slip up and trip up, and we all slip up and trip up, it puts a bad taste in our mouth and doesn’t sit well in our gut. The remedy for which we should be very familiar — to walk that well worn path to the cross. To confess every evil way. To be cleansed of all sin’s defilement. To be reminded afresh that we have the power to walk in newness of life because of the finished work of the Son, and the unfailing, steadfast love of the Father.

Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

(Psalm 119:104-15 ESV)

Yup. Pretty sure it’s an either/or thing. Not a perfect thing, at least not on my part. But the perfect way. The way of desired obedience. Saying no to sin that I might say yes to His word. Diligently, consistently in His word, thus curbing the appetite for sin.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Sovereign God, Freewill Faith

Evidently, while pretty good at a serving up prophecy, Elijah wasn’t much when it came to preparing a meal. And though they were both considered unclean, they could cook.

And the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the LORD.

Then the word of the LORD came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath.

(1Kings 17:2-5a, 17:8-10 ESV)

Prophet-ing can be quite demanding work, especially when you’re prophesying against a wicked, power-wielding king and his crazed, vengeful wife. So, after Elijah tells King Ahab there’ll be no rain for years (17:1) because he led Israel into idolatry “more than all who were before him” (16:30), it’s not really conducive for long life for Elijah to hang around. But where to go?

First, God tells the prophet to go to the brook Cherith, where I have commanded the ravens to feed you. Ravens were unclean birds. To eat from their hand, or their beak, would have made the food unclean, I’m thinking. But God provides and Elijah eats. Then, when the brook dries up, because the rain’s dried up, God commands Elijah to head toward Gentile territory where a widow there will feed you. Gentile widows were also considered unclean. Is there a bit of foreshadowing here?

“What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15 ESV)

Initially, my focus is on God’s sovereignty — whether concerning the miraculous (birds serving up a daily meal of bread and meat) or, the not so miraculous (a widow cooking for three rather than two.) Whether it’s birds or people, when God commands something, it happens.

Then, it’s Elijah’s obedience which gets me thinking. With my purple colored pencil, I underline “so he went” in both verse 5 and verse 10. But, as I hover over those for a bit, I pull out my light green colored pencil, my color for faith, and shade both verses. Elijah heard the word of the Lord, Elijah believed the word of the Lord, so Elijah went according to the word of the Lord.

But Elijah’s not the only one who went.

And she [the widow at Zarephath] went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days.

(1Kings 17:15 ESV)

You see, while going from feeding two to feeding three may not, of itself, seem to be a leap of faith, it is when the cupboard is bare, and all you have is “only a handful of flour in a jar and little oil in a jug”, and your intention it to go cook up a last meal for you and your son before you both starve to death (17:12). So, when she went and did as Elijah said, there’s a bit of faith happening there as well.

But God commanded it. Could she have done otherwise? And if she couldn’t, then does she get “credit” for her faith? Hmmm . . . there lies a mystery.

It’s one thing for a raven to do the bidding of the God of creation, but I’m thinking it’s a very different thing when it’s an image-bearer of God who bears a sin-tarnished image and is able to exercise her free will.

Yet, God commanded. And so, she believed and acted on that belief. Thus, she, her son, and Elijah were able to eat for “many days.” I wanna give her an attagirl ’cause I think she deserves it. Ultimately, though, it’s God who gets the glory.

God is the giver of faith in order to accomplish what He has commanded.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

A sovereign God who ordains things to be. Sinners saved through their freewill exercise of faith. But not of their own doing; it is the gift of God. Did I mention something about a mystery?

Awe. Wonder. Gratitude. Worship.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Imitators Out of Reverence

Hovering over the first twenty-one verses of Ephesians 5 this morning. There’s a lot of to do’s and to don’t’s here. Ways to behave which are “proper among saints” (5:3), and behaviors more consistent with the “sons of disobedience” (5:6). Things consistent with being “light in the Lord” (5:8), and things more aligned to “the unfruitful works of darkness” (5:10). More things, frankly, than I think I can remember. So how I do obey all these things?

I’m captured by the opening and closing words of this section of Scripture. I’m wondering, if by taking these words to heart, I’m more likely to to do what I should and not to do what I shouldn’t.

Therefore be imitators of God . . . out of reverence for Christ.

(Ephesians 5:1a, 5:21b ESV)

Be imitators of God. Sounds somewhat daunting. Yet I’m reminded of what Peter says:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

(2Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

It’s pretty clear that our salvation comes with more than just a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. It’s not just what we were saved from, but more so what we were saved for. Redeemed to be restored. Rescued to be regenerated. Born again that we might bear more accurately the image we were originally intended to bear — the image of God.

Thus, part of what comes with being born again is everything we need for life and godliness by His divine power. That, through His unfailing promises and indwelling power, we can actually become partakers of the divine nature. God has granted — He has “bestowed” upon us, has “gifted” us — all the tools we need to be imitators of God. Sure, we need to accept that by faith. But hey, we walk by faith and not by sight (2Cor. 5:7).

So, I got what I need to be an imitator of God. Mine then is to know God. Pursue God. Learn who God is. And then seek to imitate and reflect His nature and character.

And while there may be many motivators to undertake being an imitator, I wonder if there is any greater motivator than out of reverence for Christ.

Wanting to walk as I should walk, and not walk as I shouldn’t walk, because of Jesus. Wanting to do what the Father would do, because of what the Son has already done.

My life seen as an living and active “thank you” to the One who emptied Himself of heaven’s glory and came to earth to give His life as a ransom for my sin. Obedience birthed not from fear of not being blessed, but birthed because I am already fully “blessed in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).

Motivated, as some translations render it, by the fear of Jesus. But not a cowering, I hope I measure up and don’t blow it fear. But an awe-induced respect for the One who purchased me with His own blood and now lives in me through His Spirit.

Sure, aspiring to imitate God is a big order. But we’ve been given all the tools we need to participate in the divine nature. What’s more, we been given all the motivation we need through our love and gratitude for His divine Son.

For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: if One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.

(2Corinthians 5:14-15 CSB)

Imitators of God out of reverence for Christ.

Only by His grace. That it would be for His glory.

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There’s Always a Benefit

Nobody’s looking for troubles. To avoid sorrow and suffering, if it were possible, might well be on everyone’s to do list. Hardship and hurt aren’t things we pencil into our calendars — rarely are they predictable, never do they wait until it’s convenient. Yet, we know they’ll come. And while we also know there will be a cost, I’m reminded this morning by the songwriter that there’s always a benefit.

You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.

(Psalm 119:65-67, 71 ESV)

To the extent that afflictions compel us to seek the LORD and His word, it is good for me.

It starts with what we believe. That the God who redeemed us and rescued us will deal well with us. Not because of our merit, but because of His sovereign purposes and His steadfast love. And we believe in His word, His commandments, His statutes and precepts. They are the words of life for all of life — the good life and the hard life.

Thus, when we are afflicted, when the going gets tough, to the degree it drives us to a God who deals well with us, and to His word which is life for us, it is good.

Not sure where I heard it first, but I am more convinced now than ever that Winston Churchill was right on the money when he said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” A crisis has a way of reminding us of how little of life we actually control and that we need to place ourselves in the shadow of the One who controls all things. Afflictions remind us of our need and dependence, that our weakness is the perfect platform for God’s strength to be known. When the heat gets turned up it acts as a crucible for the things of the heart, impurities come to the surface. If we will turn to the LORD, believe His word, and repent of our sin, hard times can be purifying times.

There’s always a benefit when we take the Word that we know in our head and, by faith, apply it and watch it become a living and active, operative dynamic in our lives. We know experientially His presence. We know experientially His power. We know experientially the reality of the gospel as, by faith, we realize the transforming impact of a blood-stained cross, an empty tomb, and Christ in us.

You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.

(Psalm 119:68 ESV)

God is good. God does good. I believe that. That’s why I ask Him to continue to teach me His ways. That’s why, though I’m not a fan of hardship per se, the classroom of afflictions is not only expected, but can even be a cause for joy (James 1:2-4) as the Father teaches me, renews my mind, and conforms me more into the image of His Son.

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.

There’s always a benefit. Mine is to have ears to hear, eyes to see, a heart to receive.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Created After the Likeness of God

I pause this morning and consider how emphatic Paul is in exhorting the Ephesians:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

(Ephesians 4:17 ESV)

No more, says Paul. No longer. You should not. You must not. Stop it.

He exhorts them to put off the old self, to renew their minds, and to put on the new self so that they no longer live after their “former manner of life”, fueled by its “corrupt desires”, but conduct themselves in a way consistent with how they were taught in Christ (4:20-24a).

And this, not so they can earn God’s continued favor, not so they can boast in self-righteousness, not so they might possess a holier-than-thou attitude among others. Rather, because they have already known God’s favor; because they are, in fact, righteous; because they are, in reality, marked by holiness. Paul’s exhortation is not they would fake being something they are not, but that they would live into something that they already are.

. . . put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Ephesians 4:24 ESV)

Created after the likeness of God. That’s Genesis language. Just as man and woman were created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), so the born-again man, the born-again woman, have been created after the likeness of God. Though once walking in ignorance and darkened understanding, though once subject to the hardness of our naturally born rebellious hearts, in Christ we have become a new creation (2Cor. 5:17). A new heart, an enlightened understanding, given everything we need to partake of the divine nature (2Pet. 1:4), created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Chew on that for a bit. If we are in Christ then we bear the likeness of God in a way we were never able to do so before, even though we were born to be His image-bearers. Now able to reflect true righteousness. Now empowered to walk in actual holiness. That’s who you are, says Paul, live into it. And not just for your good, but for God’s glory. To live any other way, especially in your former way, is to distort the likeness of God.

And this isn’t meant to add pressure on us to perform. Rather, it’s strong encouragement to allow God to do the work He’s promised to do in us — to transform. We say no to the old. We lean into pursuing the new. And God, through the Spirit, renews us through our minds, which eventually translates into how we live. And that, because we have been created after His likeness in true righteousness and holiness.

Not in ourselves, but through the One who lives in us. We can bear the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness because or our union with Christ, the One who is God and is, Himself, true righteousness an actual holiness.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

Ours is not to formulate a new life, but to cooperate in allowing the new life we’ve freely and fully been given to flourish. To live into who we are — image bearers by creation, likeness bearers through recreation. To do otherwise is to distort the image of God.

Father, help me to war as I should against the temptation to live according to the old man. Transform my life through the renewing of my mind that I might reflect the new man. Teach me the way of Christ, the way of surrender, such that it really is no longer I who live but Jesus who lives in me. Then will I live as I was created to live, after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Only by your grace. Only for your glory.

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For the Sake of Another

He crossed the line. Eventually Solomon’s unlimited wealth and unbridled passion caught up with him, “for when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1Kings 11:4). The progression is clear: first, his heart was “turned away” after other gods; then, he “went after” others gods (11:5); and finally, the man who could pretty much do whatever his heart wanted, then “built a high place” for others gods (11:7). Bottom line? “He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (11:6). Bottom of the barrel bottom line? “The LORD was angry with Solomon” (11:9).

God, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6), was angry with Solomon. His patience had run out. And to be clear, God’s anger for Solomon was not because he “slipped up” or erred in this way once or twice. Solomon had fallen into perpetual, habitual sin. And for that, the anger of a just God demanded action.

Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.”

(1Kings 11:11 ESV)

Habitual, unrepentant sin, demanded just consequence. The kingdom would be taken from Solomon. Yet, not all the kingdom.

“Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David My servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.”

(1Kings 11:12 ESV)

God had promised David, a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22), an eternal throne (2Sam. 7:16). And though his son, Solomon, forfeited the right to sit on the throne because of unrepentant, persistent rebellion against the express commands of God, yet for the sake of another, for the sake of David God’s servant, God would leave a remnant to be ruled by the house of David. Because of God’s promise to David, He was merciful, and gracious, to the descendants of David.

And it overwhelms me a bit as I consider how this plays out with the Greater David, the ultimate heir to the throne, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God and, with the sinner saved by grace sitting in this chair.

I am Solomon. Oh, maybe not to the excess of Solomon (I couldn’t afford it). Maybe not with the persistence of Solomon (did I mention I couldn’t afford it). And, I don’t think, with a heart turned away like Solomon’s. But I have failed to keep the commandments. I have stumbled in trying to walk in His statutes. My heart has been turned to gods which are not gods — too often, if not to external gods, then to the god of self. Should God call on me to give an account based on my ability to walk in His ways, I’m done like Solomon.

Yet, for the sake of Another, for the sake of the Greater David, Jesus, God determines to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

I have been called of the Father and betrothed to the Son, and the Father has promised the Son that none which He has been given will be lost (Jn. 6:37-39). Thus, when I fail to walk as I should walk, it is for the sake of Christ that He preserves me. When I fail to repent as I should repent, for the sake of Christ He merciful disciplines me. When I stumble because of the weakness of the flesh, because of Jesus He restores me. God’s goodness to me yet, not because of me — but for the sake of Another.

The One who owns me as His bride. The One who died to atone for my sin. The One who is risen and now lives in me and through me.

The work God has started in me, He will complete in me (Php. 1:6). For the sake of Another.

By His limitless grace. All for His everlasting glory.

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Forgive

That Solomon is taken over by the Spirit of God in his prayer of dedication for the temple is beyond obvious. If there’s any question about it, the sure sign of being filled by the Spirit, prophesying, is more than evident as he refers to a day when, because of His people’s sin, God’s people will cry out in repentance from exile in a foreign land (1Kings 8:46-51).

So, listen up, Pete. The glory has descended upon the Holy of Holies. The Spirit has entered the king of promise. So hear his words, his God-breathed words, as he spreads his hands toward heaven and petitions the God of heaven.

He addresses the God who is like no other god, either in heaven above or on earth beneath. The covenant keeping God. The steadfast love demonstrating God. (8:23). The God who cannot be contained by the universe much less the meager dwelling just completed by the king (8:27). Yet Solomon dares to petition this God because He is the God who hears in heaven.

Seven times Solomon appeals to that divine dynamic. Seven times he counts on that supernatural reality. The God who is uncontainable is nevertheless approachable because He hears in heaven. Jaw-dropping!

So, what’s the first thing you ask of a transcendent, unfathomable God who hears in heaven? What’s the first request going to be when you realize that, by God’s condescending goodness and grace, you are privileged beyond privilege to appeal to Him directly? Maybe not what we’d expect.

And listen to the plea of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.

(1Kings 8:30 ESV)

Forgive. That’s the ask.

Me? I might have asked, bless, or lead, or protect, or something like that. But right out of the gate, on that joyous, awe-invoking day of opening the doors to the temple, after beholding the glory of God descend upon it in a cloud, that’s what Solomon comes up with. “God, when we sin, and we’re gonna sin, forgive” (8:46-50). Hmmm . . . did I mention he’s Holy Spirit filled at this point?

I’m listening in on the wisest guy in the world, at the time. And not just full of worldly wisdom, but filled with wisdom from heaven itself by God Himself. So, maybe I better listen up.

Chew on it a bit and, actually, it makes a lot of sense. The very essence of unmatched holiness breaks on the shore of fallen man’s fleshly fickleness– at some point the light is gonna expose the darkness. When it does, says Solomon, Lord, forgive. Hear our prayer, hear our plea, and forgive.

Forgive, that’s the starting point of life with God in the midst. It’s also the inevitable returning point, again and again, until the man, or woman, of flesh is fully redeemed.

It’s the reason the cross has the power it has. Because there the work of atoning for sin was finished. And that’s the work which allows a just God to forgive sin. The basis for a holy God to see the debt owed due to our transgression against Him and declare it paid in full. Which allows a slow to anger, abounding in grace God, to keep pouring forth grace. Grace greater than all my sin — past sin, present sin, and, thank God, future sin. Because of the cross, our God forgives and forgives again.

Repentance is the continuing fuel for redemption’s fire. Intimate familiarity with the four words, “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4) presents that much-needed, well-worn path to the foot of the cross where, in the gospel-shadow it casts, we find the power of God for salvation.

Rather than be caught up in all that he had done for God, as Solomon beheld the glory come down, as he was filled with the Spirit within, he knew it wasn’t what he could do for God, but only what God could do for him. Forgive.

By God’s grace alone. For God’s glory alone.

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I Don’t Know Why

They’re back to back, certainly it’s no accident. You can’t help but think the contrasting facts are intentionally juxtaposed against one another so that we’ll pick up on something that’s being laid down. The what is easy? It’s the why that’s up for debate. But maybe the real benefit lies somewhere in the how.

In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid, in the month of Ziv. And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.

Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.

(1Kings 6:37-7:1 ESV)

Seven years. Thirteen years. Solomon took seven years to build the house of the LORD. He then took thirteen years to build his own house. Those, as Joe Friday might say, “Are the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” (Baby boomer reference). That’s the what. That’s a detail preserved in the Holy Scriptures, breathed out by God, for us to observe. The question then is, “Why?”

True confession time . . . Immediately, I think the worst. I go to the place of Solomon’s known “darker side.” His well documented Ecclesiastes side, the “I tried everything to bring lasting happiness but it was all vanity under the sun” side. Solomon spent almost twice the time building something for his own pleasure as he did building something for God’s glory. Having first set up God in His holy dwelling place, Solomon then gets distracted in trying to satisfy himself through his own over the top dwelling place. Having fulfilled his obligation to do as his father, David, had desired to do, he then descends into being consumed with lavishing upon himself what he desires to do. You get the idea. You can hear the “tsk, tsk” in my voice. You can see me shaking my head. But know also, I am looking in the mirror of Solomon’s actions and hearing, “Beware” in my own life. So is that the why?

Or, as some might suggest, is it far more pragmatic than sinister? Did the building of the temple only take seven years because of the years and year of preparation that been done before ground was broken? We know that it had been on David’s radar since ascending the throne and that throughout his reign he accumulated materials for the temple. Or maybe, it only took seven years because of the sense of urgency that Solomon had in providing a place of worship to benefit all people over providing a palace for himself to live in. Or maybe it’s because, having given to the LORD the first fruits of his time, treasures, and talents in order to build a house fit for the King, he was a little exhausted and, with what was left, had less oomph for the task of making himself a house fit for a mere king. Maybe that’s why?

So, it seems to me, the why is up for debate. Either scenario, I think, is a possibility. And, just as likely, there may be other reasons why God determined to not only record these facts but to preserve them side by side.

And that has me thinking about how I process this morning’s observation. Don’t think it’s about having to choose Option A or Option B, but about chewing on both.

Reminded that some of the why’s in Scripture are not clearly spelled out. So there’s room for debate, space for speculation. And in such cases, it calls for humility. An open-handed, God-knows-and-I-don’t sort of attitude. While we are to search diligently the Scriptures for understanding, “it is the glory of God to conceal things” (Prov. 25:2).

So, I sit back content with the lack of resolution. But it’s not that I’m devoid of any application.

First, beware a judging heart, Pete. You’re initial discernment about Solomon’s motives has evidence in Scripture, but at the end of the day it is Solomon’s heart, and only God sees it. Second, beware an attitude that says once I given something to God the rest of what’s mine is for me — it’s all the Lord’s, everything we do is to be done for His glory. Third, be quick to attend to matters of worship with urgency and a desire to bring your best — tending your own house can wait when it’s deferred for faithfully tending to God’s house, first.

Seven years vs. thirteen years. That’s the what. I don’t know why. But maybe I’ve learned something this morning through the how.

That too, by God’s grace. That too, for God’s glory.

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Deal Bountifully, Open My Eyes, Hold My Hand

I think I’ve really believed it for some time now. But as I hover over it afresh this morning, I believe it more now than I’ve ever believed it.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not Your commandments from me!

(Psalm 119:17-18 ESV)

Deal bountifully. That’s a grace plea. Don’t deserve anything, much less the God of heaven’s bountiful provision. But need it? That’s another matter entirely. How I need the God of heaven’s bountiful provision in order to live. Not just to do life, but to really live as we were created to live, bearing the image of God, flourishing as children of God.

Open my eyes. I’m processing that as a parallel petition to verse one’s plea.

Deal bountifully = Open my eyes.

The way I can live as I was created, and re-created, to live is by keeping His word. But apart from His bountiful provision in opening my eyes I am unable to behold what needs to be beheld. And beholding is vitally important. For I truly am a sojourner on the earth.

I become more and more convinced that I can’t do life apart from His word. And life that is done apart from His word is sub-optimized life. A cheap replica of life. Less life than the abundant life that He desires for us (Jn. 10:10). Like I said, I’ve really believed this for some time now, but I believe it more today than ever.

I know I believe it because it is increasingly hard for me to start the day if I am not starting most days in His word. That’s not a boast, it’s just a reality. Not because of my great discipline but because of my great desperation. I’m a sojourner and I need His word to navigate this increasingly complex world. Psalm 119:18 is as much my prayer today as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Perhaps more so.

An old gospel song comes to mind, “I can’t even walk without You holding my hand” (you can check it out here). True statement? I’m thinking. And while there are many metaphysical and transcendent ways in which God can hold our hand, isn’t there a pretty tangible way as well, through His living and active and ever accessible Word? I’m thinkin’ that too.

And honestly (not that I’m ever trying to be dishonest), I don’t know that we really get a grasp on His hand, or He gets a grasp on ours, if we’re seeking wondrous things from His word on a hit-and-miss, only on Sunday, whenever I feel like it basis. Regular, meaningful interaction with God’s word sets us up for practically realizing His bountiful provision for us as He opens our eyes through an encounter of the divine kind — the Spirit of God illuminating the word of God to children of God. Giving wisdom and discernment and power as we navigate our way through this culture, desperately needing to know how to sojourn in a way that’s truly for our good and His glory.

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

(Psalm 119:24 ESV)

My delight. My counselors.

Bountifully revealed by His abundant grace. Wondrously presented to eyes He opens for His everlasting glory.

Amen?

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Still In the Game

There’s an advantage, in a sense, of having legalistic tendencies. By seeing all the stuff that shouldn’t be, you appreciate more the grace of God that is. Case in point? The opening verses of 1Kings 3.

Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD. Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places.

(1Kings 3:1-3 ESV)

Solomon marries an Egyptian. Smart strategically, perhaps, but forbidden under the law. Bad on him. Then, the people are sacrificing at high places. Less than ideal to say the least. Sure, the ark of the covenant hasn’t yet found a permanent home since Shiloh was destroyed, but hey, no excuses. Strike two. Cherry on top? Solomon’s sacrificing and making his offerings at the high places, as well. Outrageous! Strike three. You’re outta there!

But maybe not. Read what else God breathes out in these verses, Pete.

Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father . . .

Missteps in the flesh do not necessarily mean out and out misdirection in the heart. And God looks on the heart (1Sam. 16:7). We know that’s the case as we read further in 1Kings 3. God provides opportunity for the heart of Solomon to be laid bare as He appears to the young king in a dream and says to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (3:5).

God doesn’t appear to him in a dream to judge his marriage of military convenience, though it’s wrong. He doesn’t inflict Solomon with nightmares for not technically offering in the way offerings should be done. Instead, knowing that Solomon really does love Him, and sincerely wants to walk in His ways, God appears to this stumbler in the faith and says, in effect, “Let me grace you. Show me your heart.”

It’s not that God overlooks Solomon’s sin. In fact, God Himself, through His Son, will pay the price for that sin with His own offering. The once for all offering of the promised Deliverer on a Roman cross centuries in the future, so that God could justly “pass over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom. 3:23-25). And to be sure, Solomon’s habitual sin will find him out. What begins as one foreign wife will multiply to 100’s of foreign wives who eventually turn Solomon’s heart away from the Lord (1Ki. 11:1-4). But at this time, in this place, despite being tripped up in wayward ways, Solomon loved the LORD and really did want to walk in His ways.

So, rather than being tossed out of the game for three strikes, He is granted His hearts desire because of grace. Grace for the good of Solomon. But ultimately, grace for the glory of God. God’s purposes would be accomplished through Solomon, in a sense, despite Solomon.

Truth is, my legalistic tendency comes when I sit in a balcony watching Solomon’s story through a magnifying glass as arbiter of righteousness. But when I get off my high horse and enter Solomon’s story, putting away my magnifying glass and viewing him more as a mirror, then I’m probably in a position to process things more accurately.

I am Solomon. No, not a king. Not gonna be one of the wisest men ever. But a lover of God, a seeker of his statutes, yet prone to failures of the flesh. Yet, even more, a recipient of sanctifying grace by a longsuffering, loving God. The Father determined to complete the work He has begun in me, and wants to do through me, sometimes in spite of me (Php. 1:6).

To be sure, I need to confess and repent of my sin as God, in His kindness, continues to reveal my sin. But praise God it’s not three strikes and your out! Instead, I rest in the assurance that through the finished work of the cross, just as Solomon was, I’m still in the game.

By His grace. For His glory.

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